Mourners and supporters gathered for a vigil outside Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen, less than a week after a mass shooting outside the school killed two teenagers and wounded two others on Dec. 19. Nathan Billegas, 14, and Brandon Perez, 15, were killed and two other teens — a boy and a girl, both 15 — were wounded as classes were being dismissed.
The recent shooting deaths of two teenage boys outside Benito Juarez High School shook the community. These students’ deaths, and the injury of two others, is yet another example of the disproportionate impact gun violence has on Black and Brown communities.
This tragedy further shook the greater Chicago community as it reminded many CPS students, parents and educators of the loved ones they lost. So far this year, 54 children have been killed by firearm violence, an increase over 49 deaths the previous year.
This unfortunate uptrend in adolescent violence is not isolated to Chicago and is a part of a broader trend. Since 2020, rates of youth firearm violence and death have increased, even as adult rates have been on a downtrend. Due in part to this increase, firearm injury is now the leading cause of death for adolescents in the U.S.
This reality is evidence of the need for widespread firearm injury prevention initiatives that are tailored to adolescents. Recognizing this need, local organizations are working to break the cycle of violence and firearm deaths by educating youth on emergency bystander response and violence prevention.
One such initiative is the Medical Careers’ Exposure and Emergency Preparedness Program (MedCEEP), founded by Dr. Abdullah Pratt, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Chicago, to educate youth on how to respond to common life-threatening emergencies.
As an active member of MedCEEP, I’ve helped teach hundreds of youth how to respond to life-threatening bleeding, with a curriculum based on the American College of Surgeons “Stop the Bleed” training module — a free online training module tailored for the general public.
These trainings play an important role in addressing youth gun violence, as lack of knowledge on bleeding control in communities impacted by high rates of violence is creating further gaps in survival.
An individual can bleed out in just two to five minutes, while the average EMS response rate is seven to 10 minutes. Students, more than anyone else, are best positioned to aid their peers who may sustain a firearm injury with their classmates nearby.
Other organizations are focused on preventing firearm injury from occurring in the first place. In 2021, I co-founded the Trauma Recovery and Prevention of Violence Program (T.R.A.P. Violence) to address not only the physical but emotional and psychological impact of firearm violence on youth. We focus on recruiting youth violence prevention specialists and therapists to educate youth on trauma coping skills and violence de-escalation tactics.
This organization is now partnered with Communities in School of Chicago (CIS) and available on request for CPS youth attending CIS schools. I’m encouraged that T.R.A.P. Violence’s continues to grow, as ending youth gun violence necessitates upstream intervention, not just mitigation after the fact.
Lack of communal knowledge on bleeding management is largely rooted in lack of access to community-based training programs. There are no in-person classes available in New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit or Cleveland — cities in the nation’s top 10 in terms of gun violence.
The unique benefit of Stop the Bleed is it’s also offered as a free online program, takes less than 30 minutes to complete and can be accessed from various devices.
It is my hope that with this knowledge, more community members will commit themselves to completing the Stop the Bleed program and gain these life-saving skills.
It’s vital we shift away from the mindset that only medical or other health professionals should be equipped with the knowledge to save lives. In reality, members of the public can have the greatest life-saving potential in many of our communities.
In similar ways that communities ravaged by opioid overdose are being equipped with Narcan, an opioid reversal agent, we must begin to think critically about how to educate communities impacted by gun violence on bleeding control and violence prevention.
The need for expanded bystander training and violence prevention training in communities impacted by endemic rates of violence is clear. However, prevention must begin with dismantling the structural conditions of violence that begets firearm injuries.
In the meantime, teaching bystander training and violence de-escalation will save lives and prevent communities from bleeding out.
Symphony Fletcher, a third-year medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, is a member MedCEEP and co-founder of T.R.A.P. Violence, a youth violence prevention program.
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